How to Not be a Terrible Houseguest

Tis the season to visit friends or more likely "friends" with homes in Nantucket, Napa, or the Hamptons, and while you're at it, you may want to not risk your chances of never getting invited back.  I've had plenty of guests in my miniature apartment over the years, from those who have willingly cleaned the floors to those who have left food (vomit?) out to rot for days after their visit.  Here are a few tips to not ruin your "friendships" and ensure you have a place to stay for summer vacation next year. Get invited here- again and again! Maybe. (credit)

Bring something. Don't arrive empty handed, it's tacky and cheap. You're better off bringing something tacky and cheap, like grocery store cupcakes. Thank your host when you leave, and even send a thank you note or an e-card.  It may sound silly but it's really appreciated and fun to get!

Offer to do errands or chores.  I love errands, so this is kind of a treat for me, but hosts will be super grateful if you offer to help out around the house.  Can you pick up extra paper towels?  Make dinner?  Go on an ice run?  Do it!

Don't hog the remote.  I've had guests who think it's their duty to tell me what to watch.  Um, no.  Let your host dictate your entertainment, and if they're polite, they'll pull a "you're the guest, let's watch what you want" kind of thing.  Then you'll both feel satisfied wasting precious beach hours in front of TLC reality shows.

Clean up. After yourself and the other person. Make sure you put your trash in the trash can and perhaps even take out the empty bag!  You'll certainly be invited back if you a) don't make a mess and b) make things shinier than when you left. Also, if you don't shower all weekend, your hosts will notice.  I guarantee.

Check your hosts schedule beforehand. When people notify me that they're coming to stay and I don't have enough time to prepare in advance, I kind of panic.  I work so many jobs with so many different deadlines, arranging my schedule in advance is super important, and I don't want to feel like I'm neglecting my guests!  If your host has work or a prior engagement, ensure her you'll be okay on your own, because you'll have work or visits of your own to take care of.

Know your budget. If you don't have a lot of money for the weekend, be upfront about it!  Prepare to eat in or do free activities- let your host know early on to prevent any disappointment or embarrassing situations.

Have fun! This probably discredits this post as anything remarkable but seriously, relax and enjoy the visit.  You're not there to mope or complain about your super stressful life, unwind and make the most of your time.

Who will you be?

Material Girl

When I envisioned my life at 21, I envisioned a classycocktail in one hand and the hand of an amazingly gorgeous celebrity in theother.  However, while I may spendtime with one or both of those wonderful indulgences every so often, I find myhands more commonly occupied by a pair of knitting needles, sizes 0-9.

Three years ago I didn’t have a clue that knitting needlescame in different sizes.  Andmaterials!  And shapes!  The knitting world remained a mystery Iwasn’t even curious to begin unraveling. Pun intended.
My first week of college, I remember eating sushi and yogurton the steps of the Met, comparing my favorite brands of jeans with my earliestNew York friends—a scene out of Gossip Girl that we so easily madereality.  I had no idea where myTrue Religion Boot Cut dark wash jeans had come from, nor did I even care toquestion it.  Clothes came off arack and that was that.
While I quickly busied myself by attending galleries,joining various community service clubs, and attempting to learn sign language(thank Marlee Matlin on The L Word for this one), my new best friend Deborah occupieda chunk of her time with needles and yarn.  Not wanting to draw attention to herself, Deborah knitmostly in her room, hiding her presumed “dorky” hobby from the masses.  It wasn’t until Deborah finished anelaborate lace blanket and was forced to lie it out in her common area to drythat I realized the true art of knitting. I admired and admired it, amazed that a person could make something socomplex with only her hands!  Ibegan asking her questions about knitting, curious about the craft and amazedat her talents.
And one day, perhaps in an attempt to procrastinate fromstarting homework, I decided to ask Deborah to teach me to knit.  She agreed!  Before I could second-guess my latest ambition, I wasstocking up on yarn and needles at our local craft store and learning rhymes tohelp me remember my knit stitches.
I found knitting incredibly satisfying, unlike studying,which required hours of labor for uncertain results, each row I knit signifiedan accomplishment, I was making something beautiful, creating something out ofnothing, putting my efforts into something constructive!  I could spend my time in front of theTV actually being productive, have conversations on the subway while whippingup a new hat for myself, or make unique gifts for those I loved that actuallyfelt better to give than anything I could have bought at the store.
I joined Ravelry, AKA the Facebook of the knitting community,where I met more knitters like myself, learned more techniques, and wasinspired by patterns for lifelike turkey hats and glamorous ball gownscompletely made by hand.  Thiswhole world I never knew existed was suddenly wide open for me to explore.  It was like discovering Platform 9 ¾ forthe first time!
And while the craft was certainly satisfying, I found thecommunity the most exciting part about being a knitter.
Knitters love knitters.  Knitters love knitting.  Knitters love knitting with knitters, talking about knittingwith knitters, knitting for knitters, meeting new knitters etc etc.  Knitters love sheep and fiber and lambburgers and everything in between. Knitters are those quirky, eccentric people you honestly can’tresist.
And naturally, once you know about the clique, you wantin.  Both my New York friends andmy Chicago friends wanted knitting lessons.  They too wanted to be able to create gorgeous knitwear andimpress their friends!  Thosefriends taught other friends and I found myself sharing patterns with people I’dassume would more likely play tackle football than knit a scarf.
Knitting was one of the few aspects of my life that wascompletely non-competitive- everyone is so supportive and encouraging andalways willing to offer advice and help on any challenges that may arise.  I’ve found myself at home amongstrangers in various NYC knitting shops, bonded together through our stitches,promising to friend each other on Ravelry after we’ve shared a few minutesbrowsing yarn together or after hours of chatting and crafting..
While I’ve attempted to write this post numerous timesthroughout the past few years, it never seemed appropriate until I finished myvery first project, which I cast on (knitting jargon for “began”) in Spring2010.  Though I’d never knit morethan a few stitches, I ambitiously decided to make a blanket similar to theones that had decorated my couches at home growing up.  My mother had crocheted them throughout college and I aspired to do the same.  How cool would it be to have somethingI made myself?
The blanket was frustrating.  A huge project for a beginner.  “Why don’t you start with a hat?”  my friends suggested. “Then you can finish something and be proud, this will take youforever.”

It did take me forever.  Almost 20 months, to be exact.  The blanket has travelled to numerous cities, warmed my legswhile being knit during numerous sporting events, enjoyed many an episode of 30 Rock, and now, after thousands uponthousands of knits and purls, I have finally completed my project!

Perhaps the longest I’ve ever worked on anything (this blognot included), I impressed myself and denied the doubters any pride, creating awarm, comfy, and of course beautiful blanket that brings a smile to my face everytime I use the very item I made!
And of course, while creating my blanket, I took weeks ormonths off to create a slew of other fantastic projects—scarves, hats, ties,cowls, mittens, bags—and I’m still going!
Now that I’ve done the impossible, the knitting world is myoyster—anything is possible!  I’veditched Frat Party Thursdays for Knit Night in a coffee shop, some of myclothing budget is now redirected towards alpaca and wool, and I’m constantlycollecting new patterns to create more and more of my own unique wardrobe. I havetwo pieces on knitting pending review at TheNew Yorker (keep your fingers crossed!)  In short, I cannot imagine the past few years of my lifewithout knitting. It’s become so ingrained in me, something that makes me happyeveryday, and something I look forward to make others happy with as well!
My illustrious blanket!

Things to Brag About: Bagels

As a Jewish New Yorker, I've had my fair share of bagels:  toasted, rainbow, lox and shmear: you name it, I've devoured it.  Whether consumed before an avid study session or after a late night out in the city, it's pretty hard to beat a New York bagel.

Enter Bagelsmith:  The tastiest, happiest Bagel shop in town (if you count Williamsburg, Brooklyn as town, which I do).  Originally discovered as a place to satisfy my late night munchies with a few equally hungry friends, this bagel shop right off of the L train at Lorimer lives me thrilled each and every visit.

As this isn't an Inside New York review, I'll keep this post quick and simple:  Bagelsmith is the best! It's open 24 hours, the staff always willing to entertain your jokes, no matter what hour of the night or what state of conciousness you may be in, and you're sure to meet equally enthused Williamsburg bar hoppers while waiting for your delicious sandwich.  The dance music in the restaurant and it's proximity to Metropolitan isn't bad either...

Hence, the reason for this post.  I brought a new crew to Bagelsmith last night, and was thrilled that they copied my perfect sandwich, which I'll share here with reasons of generosity and wanting to improve the world:

Sesame bagel toasted with an egg, swiss cheese, tomato, avocado, and sprouts.  $4.00 (plus or minus some change)  Yeah, it's kind of amazing.

Enjoying the epic Bagelsmith sandwich at 2:30am.

Trippin': Best of the Midwest

This past week I went on my first ever road trip!  (Family driving vacations, as fun as they are, not included, for obvious reasons).

After many years of Girl Scout camping trips, it has always been a dream of ours to take a Culties road trip.  Unfortunately, in the past few years, we have become more geographically distant than many of us would like to be, and having everyone in the same place at the same time is nearly impossible.
However, when a few of us found ourselves overlapping for a few days at home, it only made sense to scurry across the Midwest and see what kind of trouble we could find. 
Only after about an hour of driving south on the Toll way, my mom’s suggestion as there was major construction on the highway (who knew?!)  we realized that a) we didn’t know where the highway was, b) we didn’t have a map, a compass, GPS, or really any way to know where we were going!  But, not a problem, Girl Scouts are always prepared, and the three of us were confident in our navigational skills. 
“Look!” I exclaimed as I pointed from the front seat to a blue sign with an H in it, “The highway! We found it!” 
  
My friends collapsed in laughter.  Turns out, this means Hospital, not highway. 
Guess I shouldn’t have doodled and daydreamed my way through driver’s ed.  

At this point, I should probably mention that at no point in this entire journey was I behind the wheel.  I shriek at the sight of a truck in my rearview mirror, the radio easily distracts me from changing traffic signals, so no, the life of my friends was not going to be put in my hands. 

Beautiful Midwestern landscape. 
But this was what was so special about our trip:  we each have our own special qualities that bring us closer together: humor, patience, bravery, a sense of direction, and spending countless hours in a car together forced us to bond even quicker, to take advantage of each other’s talents and utilize our strengths to get to our final destination. 

We made up a license plate game to keep us entertained when miles of cornfields seemed almost unbearable (Midwest = 1 point, South = 2 points, West = 3 points, East = 4 points, Canada = 10 points, Hawaii or Alaska win the game).  I highly recommend it, but be forewarned, it gets competitive when you spot Oregon simultaneously!
Queens of the Midwest!
We made playlists of our favorite old and new music, sang the entire Dreamgirls soundtrack, reminisced about our times dancing to Spice Girls and Destiny’s Child, and learned all the words to Ellie Goulding’s newest album. 
We saved a dog’s life, made quirky and interesting new friends, tried local cuisine (read: various fried foods), learned about the imprecise albeit fascinating history of Route 66, debated whether wearing boating shoes made it a cruise instead of a road trip, kept each other constantly entertained, stayed dry at a zoo in the rain, and so much more. 
While the trip was short, it was so memorable.  We could have been in the middle of nowhere (and we pretty much were, for the most part Southern Illinois/Missouri are not epicenters of excitement) but we had each other for everything we could ever need.  Having best friends is the absolute best.  

Cory & Me

"If aliens are watching this through telescopes, they're gonna think
the dogs are the leaders. If you see two life forms, one of them's making a
poop, the other one's carrying it for him, who would you assume was in charge?" –Jerry Seinfeld

Disclaimer: I recently saw a play, “No More Dead Dogs” in which high schoolers protest reading books about dogs because they always die in the end.  This post is NOT like that.  

For as long as I can remember, I always wanted a dog. I brought my stuffed dog, Fluffy, pretty much everywhere, until he was covered in paint and far less furry than when he’d received his fitting name. 


From the time I could read, I was checking out books about breeds, and training, and talking dogs from the library, often bragging to the librarian that I would receive a fluffy red Cock-a-Poo for my next birthday. I got a hot pink Furby instead.

My dad had been raised with poodles, my mom, on the other hand, was not a dog lover, and determined that cleaning up after two kids was enough. Given my inability to do laundry, I guess I have to concur. 

In third grade, my best friend got her ears pierced after proving to her parents that she could keep her room clean for six weeks, the amount of time she’d need to dedicate to cleaning her piercings. I tried this same tactic, but to no avail. 

By now, I had Woof at my side and decided that fake dog walks down the street, using a jump rope as a leash and a ribbon as a collar would prove my responsibility, my determination to have a jumpy, barking, pettable creature greet me at the door when I returned home from school and to sit on my lap when I watched TV. 



Best of both worlds. 



Better than the Furby, my parents decided to reward my efforts with two hamsters, Fluffy and Lucky. I screamed in horror whenever they came near me. Their cage smelled awful. Their toys went unused. Lucky bit Fluffy’s ear off and eventually bit my finger as well. Fluffy died of a stomach tumor, Lucky was released into the ravine behind our house shortly after. 
It may sound cruel, but I wanted a canine, not a rodent.



At this point, I was prepared to enlist my younger brother in the quest for a dog, and he readily started finding adoptable puppies on the Internet and facts on Retrievers and Labradors and mixed breeds. 

Sadly enough, my dreams had not been realized by my birthday and my dear friend decided to get me a “grow-a-frog” as a gift.  The Number One rule of gift giving is never give anything living.  If it’s not, it should be.  The adorable tadpole in the kit soon grew into a cute frog that needed tedious water changes to prevent foul odors from overwhelming my bedroom. This was not exactly what I imagined as a dream pet. 
One evening during a particularly tragic water-changing event, my dad accidently put hot water instead of cold into the tank, boiling my pet into soup and causing a flow of tears that could have filled the tank with the cold water necessary for frog survival.  My dad felt terrible and promised that the next afternoon after synagogue we could discuss getting a puppy. 
Much to my luck, the second frog I had sent away for arrived in the mail that afternoon and all hopes of having a dog were lost.  This frog reeked worse than the first, croaked louder when I was sleeping, and was an all around creepier amphibian to have in my daily life.  After years of desperately asking friends to babysit the poor creature, he was finally released into the wild, in a nice river in a nature preserve where he still lives happily to this day. 

Now, it may sound like I’m a bit of a pet killer, but my Furby is still safely blinking and crowing from my closet!
By the end of middle school, I had mostly given up on my dog owning dreams.  I changed the theme of my Bat Mitzvah from Dogs to Monkeys, started collecting makeup over dog accessories, and spent my time reading Seventeen instead of Dog Fancy magazine.   
And yet, my brother was still not ready to let go of the dream.  He continued researching and begging and pleading, until finally one day after family brunch downtown, he convinced my parents to visit a local puppy store, where we immediately fell in love with a golden miniature poodle. 
I use “we” gently.  I didn’t particular like this puppy, he kept biting my fabulously stylish gaucho pants and I had been disappointed by puppy shopping far too many times that I just wanted to leave and hang out with my friends. 
The week before I started high school, my parents purchased our first puppy and suddenly I realized that my last fourteen years of work had been absolutely worth it. 

Puppy's first day home!

After a few days of heavily debating names (my brother wanted Rex, because it sounded tough; my dad wanted Mincha because it was the name of the prayer service that occurred at the time of the puppy’s adoption; my mom was too busy on the phone shocking everyone with the news of our new family member to really care too much), we chose my suggestion, Cory, after everyone’s favorite curly-haired sweetheart from Boy Meets World.

Cory was difficult, at best. He howled when we went to bed and left him downstairs in his crate, which we learned to call his “home,” to be more positive. Cory peed on my friends’ laps and on schoolbooks I left on the floor. He wouldn’t stop humping. He shredded many jeans, chewed apart computer chargers, ran barking loudly down the street with no chance of being caught without the reward of a juicy hot dog, which we kept stocked in the freezer.


But, of course, Cory was too unbelievably cute to hold any grudges against, and only seconds after he stained the carpet we’d be tickling his tummy and cooing over him once again. 
I grew to love my dog faster than I ever imagined.  He was there to cuddle with whenever I wanted, I could bake special treats for him and know that he’d enjoy them as if Julia Child had prepared them himself, he’d go on walks with me so I wouldn’t have to be alone.  Cory would listen to my secrets without judgment, agree with my opinions on tough social situations, be the loving third-party in any family feud that would arise. He has a great "Doganality" as we put it, always smiling and looking precious and perfect in any situation.  
Before Cory, I had no idea that dogs yawned or sneezed or were so cozy to snuggle with. I didn’t know how happy I would feel upon hearing my dog barking with excitement right before I entered the house.  I never considered what dogs were thinking about or if they even thought at all or if when Cory twitched in his sleep he was indicating a bad dream or merely an itch.  I was stunned to learn that dogs can have a vocabulary of upwards of 40 words, depending on how smart they are. 
Cory is the Albert Einstein of dogs.  And I’m not just saying this because they’re both Jewish. 
Cory is brilliant.  He’s bilingual.  He closes drawers when we leave them open.  He helps drive and honks the horn in busy traffic. He changes TV channels when I’m watching bad reality shows. Never  has he attempted to drink out of the toilet. 
"Hola!"
Everyone says her dog is the best, I’m quite aware.  But I can say with confidence, that Cory is truly the world’s best dog.  Yes, he eats his fair share of toilet paper, and yes, he may lick my friend’s feet with a little too much vigor, but he is so much smarter, cuter, more talented, and more loving than any four-legged creature that walks this planet.  

The End of the World

Contrary to popular belief, and much to my own personal astonishment, the world did not end today.  Shocking, I know, but at 6:00 I was quite contently making a fool of myself in dance class, awkwardly shrugging my shoulders up to my enormous ears when I should have been sensually shimmying to the music.  I am no Tila Tequila.
However, all this hype made me think about the end of the world, about what would actually happen if I knew for sure the world was ending in a matter of days, minutes even.  What would I do?  Who would I call?  Where would I go?  And most importantly, what would I eat?
This is the worldwide web, so I’m going to stray from specifics, as I’m pretty sure Tyra/future employers/my rabbi keep up with my blog regularly.
Before May 21st’s projected end of the world, my world completely fell apart.
One after another, all the things that kept me stable and happy started slipping away from me, and I felt like I lost all sense of control.
It started slowly at first, school stress, family fights, friendship drama, relationship challenges, all the regular issues a college student endures, nothing to get too bummed about.
And suddenly everything built up. Maintaining my Dean’s List status meant sacrificing valuable time I could be maintaining relationships with old friends.  Having a wonderful relationship meant lying to my family.  Lying to my family equated to constant paranoia over what my friends knew and said and repeated.  Paranoia about my friends’ activity led to unnecessary insecurity about my relationship.  Ridiculous insecurities led to me being unpleasant, upset and angry and sad and frustrated for no understandable reason, taking it out on the people I loved most. There was so much to be afraid of and I just wanted to believe I was fearless.
I denied my own unhappiness because it made no sense to me.  I had it all: a fantastic life in New York City, amazing friends, love.  I was brighter, prettier, and all around more talented than most people, so what is there to be miserable about?
I remembered being happy, fantasizing about the times I felt light and free and on top of the world, a mere three or six months ago, and I had faith that this too shall pass, and I wouldn’t feel so heavy and bogged down and glum. I excused my behavior for so many reasons: bad weather, lack of sleep, PMS.
I distanced myself from the girl who would silently cry herself to sleep, unsure why the tears came in the first place.
I blamed those nearest and dearest to me for not making me happy enough, for not doing enough for me, for not understanding anything I was going through. But how could they when I couldn’t even acknowledge my own struggles? I was strong and independent and didn't need help from anyone, especially when nothing was wrong. I didn't want to be a burden.
I knew I was loved by so many people, but I had stopped loving myself.  I couldn’t turn to anyone, I couldn’t ask for help. I didn’t need any help- why would I?
And then the world came to an end.
And I was still alive.
I had been living and breathing for so long, walking and talking and thinking and feeling, but I wasn’t living.  My world had been slipping away from me for so long, and I thought I was ready to let it go.
My friends and family were there to pick up the pieces of the world I had crushed and forced into the ground.  They were there with tight hugs and kind words and luminous smiles and delicious treats.  They told me they had always been there, that I could always tell them what I was feeling, what disturbed me, what I needed to feel good.
They had no idea I was so unhappy, or unhappy at all for that matter.  I’m all giggles and smiles and fun all the time. I have an ideal life.  What went wrong?
Everything.  Everything was wrong for so long, and kept getting worse and worse and worse.
And then it started to get better.
Faster than everything went downhill, I defied the laws of physics as everything started looking brighter and happier and more hopeful.
Life is great!Bad things happen.  So do great, amazing things.  You have to have some bad in order to appreciate all the good.  You have to endure stress and loss and disappointment in order to fully appreciate all the truly wonderful things life has to offer.  What doesn't kill us makes us stronger.

I’m happy.  I really am.  It really took me falling apart to begin to work on myself and become the best me possible.  And I know I’m still getting there, problems don't just disappear overnight, but for the first time in far too long I feel so good.  I’ve been able to express things I’ve never been able to express, to see the world for the beautiful place it truly is, and to love myself for who I really am. I've reconnected with old friends, opened up to family members who became distant over the years, and suddenly I feel like everything is falling into place. I haven't bit my nails in a month, truly record-breaking, and I have no desire to. I’ve been having so much fun, feeling so real and alive and ready to take on the world. And it’s truly amazing.
The false ending of the world taught me how much I have to appreciate and how truly fortunate I am for all that I have.  There’s so much to live for, so many beautifully unpredictable things to look forward to, so many mistakes to make and learn from and perhaps go back and fix.
I can only hope that the Mayans are wrong about 2012, just like they were with the Conquistadors and anesthesia, because there are so many incredible things just waiting to happen and I want to experience them all!
Giraffes, for one, are incredible.

Bubblicious

I grew up in a bubble.  A bubble with perfectly manicured lawns, perfectly manicured women (and men and children), and more seemingly perfect people than you would ever expect to meet.  But perfect is a pretty relative term.

In Highland Park (Chai-land Park as it is referred to by haters outsiders), it’s perfectly normal to see eight-year-olds running around with Venti soy sugar-free vanilla lattes while texting their fellow third graders from their iPhones.  Getting your first Juicy Couture velour suit at the age of ten is like a rite of passage.  Your Super Sweet Bat Mitzvah can’t beat mine.  There were six dancers.  And massive centerpieces.  And an unlimited dessert buffet. In high school, you may have to wake up five minutes earlier to find a parking spot wide enough for your Hummer, you know, before all the other seventeen year olds with Hummers fill them up.  And of course, the biggest decision of your life comes at the end of senior year: prom limo or prom party bus?

This is a big generalization, of course.  I grew up with some of the most down-to-earth, authentic people you’ll ever meet.  They shopped at Target, clipped coupons, raked their own leaves, but all inside the comforts of our protective bubble, of course. There are so many great programs and events and people in the HP I could barely even begin to describe them all.

Every other storefront in my beloved city is beauty shop or a bank.  We used to joke that we have too much money and look way too good.  It’s not far from the truth.

I’m not trying to snub the 60035.  It’s my hood.  I’d get it tattooed on my knuckles if I didn’t have career ambitions.  Or, you know, vanity issues.
Growing up, I babysat for hours so I could afford glittery Abercrombie tops and a rainbow of Juicy hoodies.  I also received a very generous allowance, enjoyed weekly shopping trips with my mom, and never thought twice about the price of food or gas or pretty much anything.  Unlike many of my peers, not everything was handed to me on a silver platter—I worked hard for what I wanted and made sure to get it.  I wanted it, it was mine, whatever it took.
But in my tiny bubble, it was easy to forget that watching Nickelodeon for $12/hour so I could buy another pair of Seven for All Mankind jeans was not quite equivalent to having a part-time, minimum wage job at Dairy Queen so I could attempt to pay college tuition and have minimal loans.  Appreciation for what I had barely ever crossed my mind.
With Twitter accounts like Whitegirlproblem and websites like Sushi With My Girls, it’s easy to poke fun at ourselves, to laugh at our obsession with overpriced mochas and manicures and Mean Girls.  I’m not going to deny that any of those things are like, so fetch, but it’s not the real world.  My personal tragedy of spilling soy sauce from my sushi on my Macbook while trying to take notes at my top rate private university barely even compares to real world issues.  And while I adore returning to my dear bubble on Lake Michigan, every time I’m back I realize the importance of popping the bubble, seeing the bigger picture, while acknowledging all the while how my bubble prepared me in the best possible way to face the world head on.
So many of us who grew up in this bubble know how to get what we want and we’re not going to settle for less.  We’re used to constantly competing to be accepted to the best and most selective programs, to follow the hottest trends while still expressing our individuality, to be smart and nice and pretty and funny and popular and all around perfect.  It’s a lot of pressure, but after finally bursting out of the bubble, breaking into the real world, you learn to become resilient, understanding that you deserve everything you want and can work for it. No is not an answer.
You can take the girl out of North Shore but you can’t take the North Shore out of the girl.  And let me just say, there is nothing I’d rather be than a Highland Parker/ New Yorker hybrid.  You can have your sushi and eat it too.

 

Journey to the Center of the Earth

Travel is a funny thing.  You go somewhere, snap a few photos, eat some food, and take off.  Maybe you return to your destination another time, ensure your memories were as fond as they are in your mind; maybe you’re satisfied with just posting your vacation pics to Facebook/Twitter/Google; or maybe you even write about your experience for the world to see.  But that’s it.  It’s over.  It’s something to talk about at social gatherings and perhaps a way to collect trinkets for your desk, but the few days you spend abroad/a few miles from home/returning to your native country, and suddenly you’re back in real life.

On the Equator!

This past winter break I traveled. A lot.  I spent the first ten days in Puerto Rico, where I learned that even Taco Bell, Subway, Pizza Hut, and Burger King dominate this semi-exotic location, that Puerto Rican Spanish is unlike any other dialect in the world, and one should appreciate the sun on a beach vacation, as reading trashy novels on your kindle inside the hotel lobby just doesn’t offer the same experience as lying on the precious sand would.  I also learned how rum is made, perhaps a valuable skill for my future career as a pirate. 
New Year’s eve was spent with some of my precious Culties, sipping cider, ecstatically belting karaoke, and staying up into the wee hours of the morning reminiscing on the past 20 years of our lives together.  I enjoyed New Year’s brunch with my grandparents and before I knew it I was off again on a flight to JFK.
Culties bringing in the New Year.

From JFK I departed to Guayaquil, Ecuador, accompanied by a lovely group of twenty-three other women selected to participate in the international women’s leadership trip in which I was about to embark.  We arrived in Quito twelve hours after leaving New York, shocked by the free open bar on the plane to enhance the joys of watching one terrible Jenifer Aniston movie after another, and even more stunned by the insanely low food prices at the airport.  I kid you not: Cheap food- at an airport!  We knew we were in for something special. 
Planting trees in the Paramo, an extraterrestrial hot spot.
We arrived at the Hacienda Picalqui just after lunchtime.  We were served a feast of fresh tomato soup with popcorn to toss in, hot rice with vegetables, fresh salad, and pineapple juice.  For the ten days we stayed there, the three women in the kitchen, assisted by Gabriel, the toddler constantly stealing an enormous bread knife, causing a threat to the knees of our beloved chefs, never failed to cook us a delicious meal. We were constantly overwhelmed by the abundance of delicious vegetable soups, fresh breads, a little too much rice and potatoes, and even pasta!
Well-fed ladies exploring Ecuador... 
Our first full day on the hacienda was spent in the fields, pulling weeds from carrot, radish, onion, potato, and various other crops.  City girls who only had one definition of ho learned what it meant to de-weed columns upon columns of dirt (note my highly technical terms), to discover egg sacks from worms and spiders, and compost the leftovers from our labors.
Hard at work!
Throughout the week, we toured local organic farms, learning the ease with which these Ecuadorians create sustainability in their communities and reinforcing the ways in which factory farming is so detrimental to our capitalist society.  While I’ve been on eating sprees before, usually after reading a Michael Pollanbook, I finally saw- and felt- what it meant to live organically, and I vowed to eat more organic foods back in New York, a promise I’m still maintaining, although the noticeable price difference remains evident in my bank account…
Recovering after a steep hike!
Every moment in Ecuador proved equally challenging and inspirational.  We worked in the fields, met with female leaders throughout the province, visited Plaza de Ponchos, and hiked incredibly long distances at unimaginably high altitudes.  We played with children in schools, drank tin cups of aguardiente (fermented beverage made from agave, supposedly a drink of the Gods although it tastes more like dirty dish water) offered to us, and graciously accepted plates of food prepared by locals, never wasting even a kernel of corn, as we saw the intense labor necessary into producing each and every crop.
Two ears of corn, two potatoes, cheese... just a snack, right?
A girl at an infant center we visited.
Maria, a woman who had once worked in the rose plantations and went on to create a co-op for women affected by the damages caused by this industry, stood out to me.  Her eyes filled with tears as she explained that she missed the childhood of her two kids, as she worked from daybreak to well after midnight, and even longer before American celebrations like Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.  The workers suffer from horrible health as they inhale the pesticides used in the plantations and even have dark stained mouths from the toxins, preventing them from finding better work elsewhere due to discrimination.  If the workers protest or demand better conditions, they get fired, as someone else will always be waiting for work for the unfairly low wages.  I sat there listening, incredulous at who could possibly be so greedy as to force these people into such horrendous lifestyles.  And while I have been deterred from buying roses ever again- unless they’re organic!- our team is diligently working on solutions for this problem, starting first and foremost by sharing what we witnessed in South America.
Maria, far right, telling her story.
Knitted roses, a safe alternative!

Our service trip was interrupted for a two-day vacation to Intag, where we bathed in hot springs, loaded up on sixty-cent ice cream cones, and drove through treacherous mudslides, terrified that we would never see the comfort of the hacienda again.  Our last day in Intag, we took a hike past the longest Zipline in South America, and learned that for a mere five dollars, we could enjoy the experience of a lifetime.  It seemed a little risky.  It also seemed kind of awesome.  I’ve been ziplining before, in Puerto Vallarta, but it was much more expensive and seemed much less dangerous.  And while I was slightly terrified to fly hundreds of feet above a deathly river- under no circumstance were we allowed to even touch the river behind our cabins due to the undertow- I was more terrified at missing out on the experience.  For fifty seconds, I zipped through the air, taking in the breathtaking sights surrounding me, and elating in the experience of freedom.  And finally on the other side I realized that perhaps FDR really knew what he was talking about, and by embracing my fear, not running away from it, I actually found so much happiness. 
I could go on and on about the lessons and memorable experiences from Ecuador.  And while they may certainly pop up here again, I’ll keep it short.  Well, as short as I can make this.  Journaling in Ecuador made me realize that the work I did, the sights I saw, the people with whom I interacted would not be forgotten, that I had a permanent memory of my impressions and my inspirations, and while I remain clueless as to when I will return to South America, if ever again, I can understand how much I gained from my ten days there in January, and how much I can use these experiences to better connect with the world around me.
Stopping for a snack of bizcochos and dulce de leche.

Smiling with My Eyes

While I used to be the type of person who read Perez Hilton religiously, talked about the celebrities on the cover of US Weekly as if they were my BFFS, and dream about stardom, these days have since passed. I’ve shifted my daily distractions to TFLN and FML and MLIA—you know, real life things—and aspire to become world famous for my incredible writing talent rather than my dramatic skills.

However, when presented with the occasion to meet the one and only Tyra Banks, I was not one to pass up this once-in a lifetime opportunity (until I win ANTM cycle 17, that is).

Tyra, for as long as I can remember, has been my favorite celebrity. Perhaps it’s her stunning beauty, her quirky phrases and outbursts, her mission to make all women feel gorgeous and perfect. Regardless, Tyra is quite beloved and dear to me. She’s been on locker posters, T-shirts, been there to chat with me after-school when all I wanted to do was stuff my face with pasta, taught me how to work the runway, smile with my eyes, and rock my natural hair without a weave. Maybe I don’t actually need a weave, but seriously, Tyra is my girl!

I probably shrieked for an hour when I learned I had the opportunity to breathe the same air as her. While Tyra may provide us with episodes like “10 women, 5 vaginas” and “Marijuana Moms,” I still wholeheartedly enjoy her hour-long afternoon talk show. After doing my makeup as well as she taught me, picking out a cute outfit, and downing a coffee, I felt ready for my day in her studio. I couldn’t contain my excitement as I cheered and clapped and screamed for my role model long before she even stepped on stage. I volunteered myself for all the diversions until filming began; I finally was called upon to stand onstage and answer Tyra trivia, and won a free t-shirt. My favorite t-shirt.

Tyra finally pranced down her runway, tall and glamorous and flawless, and I was unsure what to think. I don’t really remember thinking. I remember staring and shrieking more and doubting that Tyra Banks stood twenty feet away from me. The taping went by quickly, although the producers continuously paused to push Tyra’s curls around with a strange stick, I went home with more than enough Valentine’s day gifts from my lady and a never-ending smile on my face.

It seemed that everyone I saw that day needed to know that I saw Tyra, shared her space, seen the legend in person. Shockingly enough, people listened, or maybe they were just hoping for some of the two pounds of Godiva chocolate she gave me...

So here’s the thing: it may seem stupid to have a celebrity icon, to look up to someone you don’t know, aspire to be her, meet her, befriend her, there’s a specialness about this impossibility that makes our lives more interesting. While I never actually believed I would meet Tyra (I swear she waved at me after the taping!), seeing her in person reaffirmed my belief in the distant. Tyra, the first African American model for Sports Illustrated and Victoria’s Secret; the star of Lindsay Lohan’s television movie debut, Lifesize; a face in Michael Jackson’s iconic “Black or White” video has always been this distant superstar, a force so powerful and far away, she barely seemed real. And now, I’ve seen her. I believe in the things she’s done and the things I’m capable to do. Tyra encourages me to release my silly side, imitate the “Single Ladies” dance on national TV (is now a good time to drop that Beyoncé was on the show), feel beautiful and perfect and just be who I am.

And while my celebrity life may be far in my past, my hours spent with Tyra will keep me smiling with my eyes for a long, long time….

Boo Yorkers!

I’ve always loved Halloween: the weeks in October dedicated to picking out the perfect costume(s), the pumpkin-flavored goodies constantly surrounding me, the excuse to eat candy throughout November (after it’s been organized in order of deliciousness, of course—Reese’s at the top, Starbursts at the bottom). While I haven’t been trick-or-treating in years it seems as if the joy of Halloween never left me. During my high school years, I always arrived at school fully costumed (Elphaba, Carrie Bradshaw, Ballerina, Alex/Jennifer Beals from Flashdance…) and managed to celebrate All Hallow’s Eve in a fully festive manner.

This year, however, brought new challenges and excitement to the 31st of October. Unsure of the typical college protocol, I began talking with my friends mid-September about costume ideas. As the week of Halloween approached we still had yet to put together a solid plan. Hence, we found ourselves in Times Square the night before the big holiday, desperately searching for some variety of clothing to call a costume.

As we pushed through the crowds of tourists and fought to cross streets without traffic, my friends kept grumbling in frustration, “This is ridiculous! We live here! Why can’t people just move at a regular pace?” We proceeded to the center of the square and had a foreign tourist snap a picture of us with the glimmering city in the background. Snickering, we trotted down Broadway, laughing at the clueless visitors to our city, trying our best to remain oblivious to the greatness that was the center of “our” city.

We stopping in a souvenir shop, desperately hoping that between all the blatant tackiness we could find costume-worthy materials. And suddenly, between all the tawdrily decorated mugs and obnoxious postcards, green foam Statue of Liberty hats caught our New Yorker eyes.

“Guys, how ridiculous would it be if we wore these?” Nods. Many nods. We explained that we were from “uptown” and “just being silly” as we bought I ♥ NY shirts to complement the crowns.

On the last night of October, three girls sat on my floor decorating premium New York tourist apparel with gobs of glitter glue and even more enthusiasm. We paraded across campus, down into the subway, and back out into midtown (where we were swarmed with cameras trying to capture our ridiculousness—superb celebrity moment) wearing an eclectic conglomeration of everything we were and everything we said we were not.

Feeling ridiculous was not even an option—everywhere we walked we were surrounded by Lady GaGas, vampires, bunnies, and even a seven-foot-tall baby.

And now, while I vow never to wear the shirt again (it makes an excellent chair cover) and keep the foam crown looped around my bookshelf as nothing more than a memory, I realize the extent to which I love Halloween. It has nothing to do with the candy and parties (well, maybe) but so much to do with just being able to laugh at yourself, giving us a break from the seriousness that is reality and just allowing us to be spontaneous and impractical, non-judgmental and free. And while I cannot advocate a human ostrich riding the cross-town bus on a daily basis, the one night a year we get to step outside of ourselves and just enjoy being whomever we want to be should never be taken for granted!

Girl Talk

I can competently find the bathroom, order food, and get directions in myriad countries. I look forward to watching Telemundo after midnight, observe American Sign Language speakers intently as I secretly eavesdrop on their conversations (is that horrible?), and even have a special language with my friends, yet I find my linguistic skills lack when it comes to insanely fanatical girlish statements. What may appear as mundane, apathetic comments are truly packed with meaning, which can take hours to deduce— far too late to apply the actual meaning to the situation. I was recently at a friend’s house for an all night movie party. Awesome? I know. She paused the first movie before it even started and called out to her sister, “We’re going to wait for you, okay?”

“Yeah, sure, I’m just getting food,” her sister called back.

Translation: “We want to watch the movie so get your butt over here. Now.” Translation: “I’m hungry. It’s Saturday night. We’re watching chick flicks. I’ll eat what I want and take as long as I want picking it out.”

It took another friend to properly decode the language from one girl to another, joking that only the female gender would understand this dialect. But do we? Can we just deduce whatever meaning we like from what these girls say and enjoy it?

I sure cannot. I either a) fail to realize that the implications of the code, or even notice that the conversation is being carried on in code or b) respond with some unreasonable code of my own.

“Would you like to come inside?” “Well, I have to be somewhere in an hour.” (Said place is fifteen minutes away) “Okay.” “Sure.”

Now what? Seriously? Stay? Go? Nod rapidly and walk away? What decision was deduced from this foolish, implausible, language of the female gender, in which each girl feigns indifference, never reaching a solution but causing the other girl to completely twist the words in every possible combination in order to conclude something?

This weekend I took a trip to Cleveland with a couple friends. The theme of the weekend was “100% neutral” as in, when we would make plans during our time in Ohio, none of us would make a decision.

“Want to go to a party?” “I’m 100% neutral.”

“Would you prefer a hot or cold breakfast?” “I’m 100% neutral.”

“How do you feel about the flattest land on Earth?” “100% neutral.”

As we boarded the train to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame my friend asked, “Are you sure this is smart?”

Friend 2: “100% neutral.” (I should mention at this point friend 2 is actually male, however exhibits many female tendencies—upon typing this I realize I will be beaten later, sorry man).

Me: “What do you mean? Of course this is smart. We’re here. We’re going.”

Translation: “Do we really want to pay $22 for a stupid museum? I don’t!” Translation: “Not really, but I’ll just go with the flow.” Translation: “Stop talking in code. We’re going to see Madonna’s cone shaped bustier, end of story.”

Upon leaving the museum, which is clearly one of the coolest places ever, there was no question whether the experience was worth our money. Absolutely no question.

We are never indifferent. We cannot accomplish anything by being 100% Neutral. And in lieu of quoting John Mayer, I do however need to ask: Why can we never just say what we need to say? Is it that difficult?

What is with all the code? Why can’t we just say what we really mean? What is going on that even in the closest of friendships we cannot even express our simplest desires? From where did this girl code originate, who thought it was a good idea, and when will it stop?